by Roman Skaskiw
(Two short essays recently published on American Thinker were excerpts from this longer essay. If you’d like to read these excerpts, visit Leftism’s Casual Relationship with the Truth Is Intentional or The Radical Left Will Never Tolerate a Messiah Who Actually Arrives . But if you have time, read the essay below. It’s the important one.)
French historian and philosopher Rene Girard observed, correctly in my opinion, that communism was not popular despite killing millions of people, but precisely because it killed millions of people.
I’m told that my grandfather climbed from the window of a school at which he was teaching when a breathless neighbor told him that “they” were coming for him. So began his trek across war-torn Europe with my then-four-year-old mother. Another relative, who would have been some sort of great uncle to me, was taken to a labor camp in Uzbekistan for belonging to an anti-communist club in his high school. He was sixteen. His family received two letters from him — the first saying it was extremely cold and asking for them to send a pair of boots, the second saying that the boots had been taken by another prisoner. He did not return.
Gratitude to the United States informed my decision to join the military. I served for six years and saw three combat tours from Fallujah to Kunar Province, and tried to believe that it was at least vaguely about American freedom.
Communism killed between 100 and 200 million people. If you have the stomach for it, you can glimpse the magnitude of suffering, and needless, sadistic (even satantic) cruelty by reading first hand accounts like Nomenklatura by Michael Voslensky, The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Red Terror in Russia Sergey Melgounov, or browsing the Drawings from the Gulag sketches of Soviet prison guard Danzig Baldaev.
In the Soviet Union, a median estimate of the number of deaths is 62 millions. That’s ten Holocausts. They began before the rise of fascism, and continued long after fascism was defeated, discredited, and condemned. This figure does not include Cambodia which murdered about a third of its population in an astonishing short period of time, or North Korea, Cuba, Tanzinia, Yugoslavia, China, or any other communism regime.
If someone were completely ignorant of contemporary discourse, and were to guess the great cause animating the present based only on the death and suffering inflicted in the previous century (with the assumption that we lived in a just world), you might guess that it was anti-communism, with anti-communist education in public schools, big businesses changing their logos to commemorate the victims of a communism, special funding for awareness and education at all levels of governments, and perhaps even some interest in reparations, but of course there is no such thing. The modest monuments to the forgotten millions, whether in Canada, New Jersey, or Washington DC are occasionally defaced, or quietly moved to less conspicuous locations.
Almost none of legions of Communist dictators, administrators, propagandists, psychopaths, sadists, torturers, and informants have been held accountable, or even denounced. Communism is widely celebrated and openly promoted.
Communism was slavery. Ukrainian villagers in the Soviet Union had to work in “kolhosps” (collective farms) for next to nothing. Until August 1974, they didn’t have the right to travel outside of their villages. The Soviet gulag system is estimated to have sustained a prisoner / slave labor population of ten million for most of its history.
As economist Yuri Maltsev, my once-co-author and former member of Soviet Unions Central Committee of the Communist Party points out, Communism was public, as opposed to private slavery, and demonstrated all the neglect and opportunism which cynical bureaucrats typically demonstrate toward public goods.
Communism has been tried by Slavs, East Asians, South Asians, Africans, Cubans, Latin Americans, and others. Everywhere the result has been the same — society turns into a giant meat grinder, always one execution away from paradise.
There are enough parallels between today’s America and what I’ve read of the formation of the Soviet Union, that I have lost sleep. I’m certainly not alone in my concern. Even before the recent civil unrest, Columbia University Theater Professor Andrei Serban, who himself fled communism in Romania, resigned over concerns that Columbia has become communist.
Perhaps these observations of well documented communist methods and tactics will provide useful reflection.
1. Pressure from above, pressure from below.
The descent of Eastern Europe into communist slavery was not a forgone conclusion after WWII. Among the tactics which Czech communist Jan Kozak triumphantly describes in is writings (see And Not A Shot Is Fired) was coupling violent street protests with official pronouncements from the highest levels possible to demoralize the middle, and create the illusion of a public mandate and inevitability.
2. The illusion of inevitability.
Communist rhetoric always puts themselves on the “right side of history” and insists that communist policies are the natural and inevitable evolution of mankind.
From its inception to its collapse, academics lauded the Soviet Union as the future model for humanity. In 1936, Sydney and Beatrice Webb, founders of the London School of Economics, published Soviet Communism: A New Civilization. The sub-headings of the book include “The Emergence of a Communist Conscience,” “The Vocation of Leadership,” “Ethical Progress in the USSR,” “The Maximising of Wealth,” and “The Success of Soviet Agriculture.” They praised the “sense of freedom and equality.” In the late 1980’s Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Samuelson described the “thriving” Soviet economy, and asked whether it didn’t justify “earlier repressions.”
Many American paleo-conservatives writers like Paul Gottfried and Peter Brimelow active in the 70s have recalled how the rise of Communism and fall of Western capitalism seemed inevitable. They were arguing against Communism despite feeling that it was a losing battle . . . and then one day in the late 80s, it all collapsed.
3. The people in whose name revolution is conducted suffer the most . . .
. . . and will risk their lives to flee the “paradise” created for them. They are ammunition. Before the communist revolutions were even complete, leaders enslaved, starved to death, and executed by the tens of thousands the very workers in whose name they made revolution.
4. The “oppressed” will not be trusted to lead their own revolution.
As George Orwell wrote: “The truth is that, to many people calling themselves Socialists, revolution does not mean a movement of the masses with which they hope to associate themselves; it means a set of reforms which ‘we’, the clever ones, are going to impose upon ‘them’, the Lower Orders.”
The intellectual hypocrisy is beyond absurd. The whole cannon of Marxism had to be rewritten when the workers repeatedly failed to “liberate” themselves with a violent revolution. Leninism “fixed” Marxism by completely rewriting the script – the oppressed proletariat would instead be led by an vanguard of intellectuals.
Philosophy Professor Stephen Hicks’s excellent little book Explaining Post-Modernism details the many outrageous ideological pivots the radical left has been forced to make over the years to preserve, essentially, hatred of the existing social order, including even their abandonment of the presumption of truth. (More on that later.)
5. Communists will never tolerate a Messiah who actually arrives.
Before the Communist Revolution, Tsarist Minister of Internal Affairs Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin was assassinated in the Kiev Opera House. As described in The Soviet Tragedy, he was a reformer who would have instituted at least some of the policies for which the communists agitated. It seems they did not want their demands met. They wanted power, and for that, problems were more useful than solutions.
More generally, when communists win and seize control of the institutions they covet, there is never a period of time when they just get on with life and demonstrate the superiority (much less the viability) of their system. Faced with the consequences of their policies, they seem to revert to their core competency: revolution and liquidation of heretics.
After the disaster of what Lenin’s generation of Bolsheviks called “Communism” (full stop) they renamed it “War Communism”, and establish the N.E.P., which resembled an oligarchic market economy. Trotsky then attempted to focus the party on a policy “Permanent Revolution”, exporting the revolution (and mass murder) to other countries. Stalin, by contrast, focused on identifying and liquidating internal enemies, saboteurs, and ideological “deviationists,” and for all its history the Soviet Union was grinding poverty and successive “revolutions from above,” each promising the final redemption and paradise of true Communism.
6. True believers die next.
High level KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov could not have stated it more clearly:
“They [truly ideological communists] are instrumental in the process of subversion only to destabilize the nation. When their job is completed they are not needed anymore . . . They think they will come to power. Of course, that will never happen. They will be lined up against the wall and shot. It’s the same pattern everywhere. The moment they serve their purpose, all the useful idiots will either be executed entirely — all the idealistically minded marxists — or exiled, or put in prisons, like in Cuba . . . Most of the idiots which were cooperating with the Soviets, especially with our Department of Information of the USSR embassy, were listed for execution.”
There are many glaring examples of this from even the earliest days of the Communist revolution:
The Kronstadt rebellion was an insurrection at a naval base the Bolshevik government in 1921, carried out by loyal communists who had fought for the Red Army during the revolution. Their demands included democratic appointment of local officials, freedom of speech, the right to use one’s own land, and some semblance of equality — all promises of Communist propaganda. The Red Army, led by Trotsky, crushed the uprising, negotiated a surrender, and then betrayed the terms and executed hundreds of sailors. The term “Krostadt moment” is still used to describe the moment of someone’s disillusionment with a leftist cause.
One the most fascinating stories of the early Soviet Union is that of anarcho-Communist Nestor Makhno’s “Black Army”. Makhno was a loyal and fanatic communist who’d been imprisoned from an early age for violent communist agitation, barely escaping the death penalty. He fought a very effective and creative asymmetric war against the forces of the Russian Tsar.
Lenin is rumored, albeit by Makhno’s own account, to have said that he’d rather the Tsarist white forces take all of Ukraine, than let Makhno expand his territory by a single step. Makhno ideologically subverted Bolshevik efforts by being a truer to Marxism and actually delivering on some of their promises, like local, democratically elected “Soviets.” As explained previously, they will never tolerate a Messiah who actually arrives.
Many of the Bolshevik soldiers sent to crush Makhno would instead convert to his cause. Later, under the guise of negotiating cooperation against Tsarist forces, Leo Trotsky invited Makhno’s forces to a planning session, and there, on the 25th or 26th of November 1920, all of Makhno’s commanders were arrested and executed. Nestor escaped. Leo Trotsky then ordered the assassinations of thousands Ukrainian villagers who were loyal to the “Makhnovists”, and mustered overwhelming force — a force of 350,000 men equipped with heavy artillery to crush the remaining Makhnovists whose numbers had dwindled to only 10,000. There is no live and let live among communists. Nor can there be. (See #18 – The Tower of Babel.)
7. Moderates die next.
Communism seems to cannibalize its moderates quickly and ruthlessly. The military detachment with whom George Orwell volunteered to fight on the communist side of the Spanish Civil War, the The Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), was largely liquidated by more radical, Stalinist Communists. For his only-moderate communism, George Orwell feared for his life even many years after the war.
The Gulag Archipelago documents communist bureaucrats carrying out their duties while resigned to the belief that the system will eventually turn on them too.
Perhaps run-away radicalization happens because communism takes the form of a secular religion. Celebrated and long-suffering black conservative Thomas Sowell discusses this in Intellectuals and Society and elsewhere. Whereas the right sees the world in terms of trade-offs, Sowell argues the left is more likely to see every conflict as a struggle between good and evil. From this perspective, no cost is too high, and every compromise is blasphemy and treason.
Peter Hitchens, the Bolshevik-turned-conservative-commentator echoed this in a recent interview with John Anderson: “One of the things I did when I was still a revolutionary socialist was try to prevent people from exercise their freedom of speech . . . It came naturally to me because I believed that what I thought and desired was so good that anybody who disagreed with me must by their very nature be evil and deserving of being silenced. . . . If you believe very strongly in your own virtue, it’s almost a caricature of justification by faith alone: you are a good person because you hold certain opinions. Therefore if you hold other opinions, you’re a bad person. And I think that makes dialogue pretty much impossible.”
8. Hate Masquerading as Love.
In The Road to Wiggan Pier, George Orwell observed that many socialists didn’t care at all about the poor, they just hated the rich:
“consider, for instance, the young man who symbolizes the dispossessed classes… he [the typical socialist] finds them merely contemptible and disgusting. Poverty and, what is more, the habits of mind created by poverty, are something to be abolished from above, by violence if necessary; perhaps even preferably by violence… he [the typical socialist] is perfectly capable of displaying hatred — a sort of queer, theoretical, in vacua hatred — against the exploiters. Hence the grand old Socialist sport of denouncing the bourgeoisie. It is strange how easily almost any Socialist writer can lash himself into frenzies of rage .”
Communism hides the hatred at its core by camouflaging itself with the plight of some oppressed group. It seems that things which help the supposed “oppressed” are of little interest to communist agitators if they don’t also provide the opportunity of vilify the supposed “oppressors”.
9. The primacy of class membership.
As has been analyzed fairly exhaustively, under communism the only thing that mattered was your class membership, specifically whether you are a member of an oppressed class, or an oppressor class. A person’s individual self is irrelevant.
The subtlety and complexity of human history is replaced with a caricature: oppressed classes of people struggle, and have always struggled against the oppressor classes, who are irredeemably evil and must be annihilated. And, significantly, the definitions of oppressed and oppressor is today as it has always been throughout all human history.
“The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.” ~ George Orwell, 1984
10. Members of the wrong class have no right to speak.
Economist Ludwig Von Mises, arguably the best early critic of communism, documented in Theory and History how communists did not even bother to address the devastating economic criticisms leveled against their ideology. Instead, the economists were dismissed as members of the oppressor class whose objections could not be taken seriously.
Interestingly, in the forward to The Road to Wiggan Pier, Orwell’s editor plays damage control against his ideological transgression noted above in #8 by pointing out that George Orwell had bourgeois roots, and cannot therefore be trusted to fully understand the plight of the proletariat.
You’d think many of the prominent early communists, not least Marx, Lenin, or Trotsky, might scrutinize their own lack of proletariat roots, given that they believed fervently enough in class to destroy entire societies, but of course they do not.
11. Intimidation and owning the streets.
Silencing the opposition with violence and threats of violence has been a ubiquitous characteristic of communists. Jan Kozak promoted confiscating arms from opponents while secretly arming, not to win a shooting fight necessarily, but, as he explains, to win the intimidation fight. He makes of point of ensuring that communist radicals own the streets and force opposition movements to hide.
Lenin’s infamous hand written hanging order of 1918 read “Hang (absolutely hang, in full view of the people) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, filthy rich men, bloodsuckers. . . . Publish their names. . . . Do it in such a fashion, that for hundreds of verst around the people see, tremble, know, shout: ‘strangling (is done) and will continue for the bloodsucking kulaks’.”
It wasn’t enough to seize control or to kill enemies. Opponents, living or dead, had to be humiliated too.
There’s an infamous photo from the Spanish Civil War of a nun who’d been killed by communists, buried, and later exhumed so that her rotting corpse could be put on display. Similar practices are described in Michael Voslensky’s Nomenklatura.
An example of industrialized humiliation comes from the Pitesti re-education camp in Romania. Inmates were forced to author fake autobiographies claiming they’d committed murder or engaged in incest. Perhaps the preposterous confessions were the strategy pointed out by libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand: When everybody is guilty, they are easier to control. It gets worse. All types of physical and mental torture were used. On Easter, 1949, recalcitrant Christian prisoners were forced into a mock communion where they had to kiss a sculpture of a phallus and ingest spoonfuls of feces. They were put through mock baptismal rights involving buckets of urine, while being asked repeatedly whether they still believed in God.
In The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn documents how relatives of executed people were forced to pay authorities for the price of a bullet. Sergey Melgounov’s The Red Terror in Russia documents women who went to beg for the lives of relatives getting raped by Cheka officers.
It was an extremely dark time in our history. I don’t mean to be overly provocative, but to provide reference points for just how bad things can get, so that we can appreciate all the freedom and agency we still possess.
13. No mercy for the wrong victims or for those who show them sympathy.
Under the fever pitch of class hatred, people feared expressing sympathy for even the most gruesome murders and injustices when they didn’t align ideologically. Generally, the burials of the victims of “Red Terror,” when they happened at all, happened under the cover of night.
On December 12, 1933, Ukrainian Americans attempted to march in Chicago to raise awareness of Holodomor, the famine genocide underway in Ukraine which ultimately killed somewhere between three and ten million people. They were violently assaulted by American communists who, according to the police report, used bats and hurled bricks. Thus, the procession attempting to raise awareness of one of the greatest genocides in human history was scattered — right here in the land of the free.
It was around this time that my wife’s paternal grandmother was abandoned by her mother to an orphanage in Kharkiv, because she thought it gave her a better chance of surviving the famine. By some miracle, her mother then found a job as a nanny for a big, wealthy family, and survived the famine. They were later reunited.
On the maternal side of my wife’s ancestry, they survived the famine because they had an old Tsarist military decoration that consisted of a gold cross. They would break off pieces of it and go into town to trade the pieces of gold for bread.
14. No tolerance for neutrality
As they still say today, “Silence is violence.”
Historian Shane O’Rourke wrote: “the rhetoric of scientific socialism masked a world view that was essentially eschatological. Bolshevism was closer to a religious cult than a political party. . . . For those who believed, the truths were so self-evident that the ends justified any means. Nor did a worldview like this leave room for neutrality; those who were not for you were against you.”
15. Communism is a jealous God and you shall have no other gods.
Don’t be surprised when communists demonstrate the audacity to cross some line of moral offense, be it the sanctity of religion, or marriage, or some revered historical figure or event, or a celebrated social value, or the shared history and identity of a society, or the innocence of children. It isn’t that they go too far by accident. On the contrary, they must go too far. They must disparage, ridicule, disaffect exactly the things which are held most sacred by a society, because communism absolutely insists on supremacy, on being the north star around which all other moral frameworks and identities exist in subservience.
When Christianity was reintroduced (to motivate Soviet soldiers in WWII), it was communist Christianity. Medicine was communist medicine. Sports were for the glory of communism. Art, literature, drama, architecture were, first and foremost communist — especially after successive purges that saw 80% of Ukraine’s intellectual class, artists, poets, writers, musicians, and university professors liquidated, including Mykola Leontovych, the composer of The Carol of the Bells, who was assassinated on January 23, 1921.
More recently, environmentalism, a noble cause which, notably, originated in capitalist countries, is occasionally shoehorned into the supposed communist class struggle.
It seems clear enough that the repression of Christians and Orthodox Jews in the Soviet Union was the elimination of rival ethical systems.
The accounts are horrifying and endless. In 1921, the metropolitan of Kiev, twenty-eight bishops and over six thousand priests were executed. Archbishop Andronik of Perm, was shot after being forced to dig his own grave. Bishop Germogen of Tobolsk, was strapped to the paddle wheel of a steamboat and mangled by the rotating blades. And far more gruesome atrocities are documented in Michael Voslensky’s Nomenklatura. In 1922, the Solovki Camp of Special Purpose, the first Russian concentration camp, was established in the Solovki Islands in the White Sea. From 1917 to 1935, 130,000 Russian Orthodox priests were arrested, and 95,000 were executed by firing squad.
It is common knowledge in the former Soviet Union, though usually surprising to Americans, that the churches and synagogues which weren’t among the tens of thousands destroyed were used as ignominious warehouses, or worse, public lavatories, or converted into “museums of atheism” which showed images of the cosmos.
16. Propaganda Saturation
To establish Communism as the God among lesser gods, society is absolutely saturated with propaganda. Throughout eastern Europe, one of the first things that happened after communists took control was the dispatch of propaganda groups, even to ridiculously remote villages. Theater troops, speakers and agitators traveled widely to ensure that absolutely no one lived without communist rhetoric. Anything not overtly communist (including private thoughts) was a threat. Textbooks of seemingly apolitical disciplines like math or physics began with discourses on their relation communism.
No social organization was allowed to exist without some overt and conspicuous expression of enthusiasm for the new religion.
17. A bizarre (and temporary) exception for Islam.
In 1922 — the same year the Solovki Camp was established for the extermination of priests — at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International an anti-imperialism alliance was declared between Bolshevism and pan-Islamism.
Earlier, in September 1920, at the “Azerbaijan Congress of the Peoples of the East”, Russian Bolshevik leaders issued a call for a “holy war” against Western imperialism.
The Bolsheviks made alliances with the Kazakh pan-Islamic group the Ush-Zhuz, the Persian pan-Islamist guerrillas in the Jengelis, and the Vaisites, a Sufi brotherhood. The Bolsheviks allied with the Chechen Ali Mataev, the head of a powerful Sufi order. The Red Army allowed ‘sharia squadrons’ which numbered tens of thousands.
These seem to have been alliances of convenience. As Martin Malia, author of The Soviet Tragedy wrote: “They took the revolutionary fire where ever they could find it.”
Policy toward Islam pivoted in 1927 with the “Khudzhum” movement, and in the 1930s escalated to mass persecutions, repressions, and assassinations of key Muslim leaders.
18. The Tower of Babel.
There is never any desire to enjoy the fruits of a communist enclave. Former Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul used to point out that while you cannot have a pocket of freedom inside of a communist society, you could easily have a pocket of communism inside of a free society. Communism certainly has enough supporters. People can pool their resources, appoint or elect administrators or commissars, and get on with life.
Of course, the smaller the communist enclave the faster the consequences communism would be felt. According to former Soviet economist,Yuri Maltsev, Lenin is rumored to have observed that if they had tried their revolution in a small country like Finland or Bulgaria, their experiment would have collapsed in a month.
19. Slow March Through Institutions and Bureaucratic Hooliganism.
American communist Saul Alinsky infamously promoted the slow and stealthy “long march through the institutions” which was originally coined by Italian communist Antonio Gramsci to gain control of society’s governing institutions. This idea isn’t a new one.
Frankfurt School philosopher Max Horkheimer said the same thing: “The revolution won’t happen with guns, rather it will happen incrementally, year by year, generation by generation. We will gradually infiltrate their educational institutions and their political offices, transforming them slowly into Marxist entities.”
Earlier, Czech communist Jan Kozak also discussed taking control of institutions, especially education, and ridiculing the ones which they fail to control, specifically mentioning the church.
Still earlier, Lenin said, “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”
In her excellent book, Red Famine, Anne Applebaum describes the many-years-long radicalization of institutions in Ukraine that preceded Holodomor. The most fervent radicals were given power and influence, and anyone who had even the slightest chance of no supporting official ideology was diminished, socially, politically, and economically.
Trotsky referred to the tactic of “Bureaucratic Hooliganism” describing the years after the revolution.
20. Decriminalization of Violence
Perhaps the peak of bureaucratic hooliganism was the decriminalization of violence against “class enemies”. Someone of the wrong class, like a priest or wealthy peasant, you could have his property stolen, his wife raped, himself murdered, and the institutions of public safety and justice would not intervene. Policy differed greatly by region and time period, especially in the early years after the Civil War.
Groups of the Communist Youth League, the Komsomols would regularly break into homes and rape women.
21. Violent Portrayals as a premonition to real violence.
Similar to the slow march through institutions, there seems to be a slow march into people’s hearts and minds in the form of a decades-long investment in ideological preparation. Traveling theaters would visit small Russian and Ukrainian towns in the country side and put on plays which encouraged hatred of the “oppressor” classes. The slogan drummed into peoples heads can be translated as “Steal from those who’ve stolen.”
It seems to fit the general description of pre-genocide discourse offered by celebrated internet personality and psychologist Jordan Peterson makes about Genocide: “Looking at the discourse that precedes genocide in genocidal states, the enhancement of the sense of victimization on the part of one of the groups, usually the group that’s going to commit the genocide, first of all their sense of being victims is much heightened by the demagogues who are trying to stir up this sort of hatred. So they basically say ‘look, you’ve been oppressed in a variety of ways, and these are the people who did it, and they’re not going to stop doing it, and this time we’re going to get them before they get us.'”
22. The communist revolution was very well financed. . .
. . . and led by professional, full-time, career revolutionaries.
23. Informants, Surveillance, and Paranoia.
As many dissident writers have observed, a minority cannot oppress the majority without the majority’s cooperation. Thus in all communist societies, informants played a major role, and incentives are structured to promote informing.
The scope of surveillance is best documented in East Germany, where approximately one out of every 6.5 people was a full time collaborators or occasional informer for the Communist regime. Their secret police, the Stasi, kept files on 5.6 million people, about 30% of the population.
Stalin’s Soviet Union made a celebrity out of boy named Pavlik Morozov. Whether real or fake, the boy was held up as a shining example for others to follow because he informed on his father for aiding “bandits and enemies of the Soviet State” with forged documents (whatever that meant), causing his father to be sentenced to hard labor, and then death.
The 2008 book The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia Paperback by Orlando Figes, does a tremendous job documenting every day life under the immense paranoia and alienation of the Soviet system.
Even when I begin visiting Ukraine in the late aughts, friends would introduce me, jokingly, as “the spy from America”, such was the culture of paranoia, even in people a generation removed from Communism.
24. Deputizing the resentful, criminal, and sadistic.
Many of the indoctrination camps, including Romania’s Pitesti, mentioned above, were structured to allow the cruelest and most brazen inmates to rise to positions of prestige and authority.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s opus, The Gulag Archipelago cites examples of the criminal class being used to oppress political dissidents, and Psychologist Jordan Peterson, offers this summary:
“The intellectual communists were sent out in cadres out into these little towns to find people who would help them round up the kulaks, and so when the intellectuals came in and described the reason that these people should be treated as parasites and profiteers, then it was the resentful minority in those towns, that would be the kind of guy who hangs around in the bar all the time and in completely unconsciousness and fails at everything, and then blames everyone else for it. The intellectuals came in and said here, this is unfair that this happened to you. You’ve actually been victimized and now is your opportunity to go have your revenge. And that’s exactly what happened.”
I’m told that in my own father’s little village a drunk informed on anyone who questioned the Communist authorities.
25. Group Punishment.
When the drunk in my father’s village was murdered one night, they responded by deporting four prominent families, including women and children, to Siberia.
Punishing entire families or villages was common practice. The policy fueled the paranoia and encouraged informants. Later, under Stalin, entire nations were punished.
On June 14, 1941, when Latvia fell under communist control, 14,000 Latvians, the cream of their society, were deported in a single night.
Just about all of the quarter million Crimean Tartars were deported in 1944, with mortality estimates ranging from 18 to 46%.
In just a few days of March, 1949, nearly 3% of Estonia’s total population was rounded up and deported to Siberia.
But it’s important to emphasize that this did not begin with Stalin. Many fellow travelers attempt to whitewash communism by attributing all the horrors to this single man, hence my emphasis on first generation Bolsheviks like Lenin and Trotsky.
Historian Shane O’Rourke described what he calls the “genocide” of the Cossacks. His book The Cossacks, includes the full text of a secret circular issued to all party, military and Checka (early predecessor of the NKVD and KGB) organizations in January 1919.
” . . . the upper layers of the Cossacks . . . their extermination to a man is the only correct policy. . . . No compromises or halfheartedness whatsoever are acceptable . . . Carry out mass terror against wealthy Cossacks, exterminating them to a man. . . . Confiscate grain and force [them] to gather all surpluses . . . Take all measures assisting the resettlement of newly arrived poor . . . equalize newly arrived inogorodnie with the Cossacks in land and in all other relations.”
(Land reform and redistribution was aimed at ending the frontier culture of the Cossacks.)
One eye witness recorded a communist tribunal hearing approximately fifty cases a day and handing out death sentences in bundles, including to a 17 year old girl who was likely denounced because of a jealous wife. Because of war, famine, and mass terror, the the Don and Ural Cossacks lost about half their population, 1.3 million lives, from 1917 to 1920.
26. The annihilation of history and identity.
Everywhere communists gained power, they sought to obliterate people’s history and identity. Calls for a “New Socialist Man” were ubiquitous.
Czech writer and exile Milan Kundera said it beautifully, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
When I was a elementary school student in NYC, I remember some “international day” where we all celebrated our heritages. My teacher told me I was not Ukrainian because there was really no such thing. I was Russian, or better yet, a Soviet citizen. I accepted this without question. It was normal for fellow travelers to deny the existence of any non-Russian identities in the Soviet Union. Their ideology requires them to attempt to unite the world and build a Tower of Babel.
Shane O’Rourke’s The Cossacks quotes a senior communist party member writing this in the first years of the Soviet Union, about fifty years before “post-modernism” and “deconstruction” gained traction:
“Neither stripes, nor the word ‘Cossack’ . . . have made the Cossack a Cossack. It is their way of life. . . . It is necessary with skillful propaganda to reveal all the dark sides of the Cossack past (of which there are a great many) and to show through the practice of Soviet construction the bright side of the new life. And then the Cossacks will cease to be a Cossacks.”
As quoted by Jan Kozak, Lenin said, “patriotism is one of the deepest feelings firmly rooted in the hearts of people for hundreds of thousands of years from the very moment their separate fatherlands began to exist. It has been one of the greatest, one can say, exceptional difficulties of our proletarian revolution.”
Notably, prominent Bolsheviks Serhii Mazlakh, Iurii Lapchynsky, and Mykola Khvylovy promoted the idea of nationhood — in their case, a distinctly Ukrainian Bolshevism. This may have been informed by the distinct weakness of Bolsheviks in Ukraine, with them numbering only 4,000 or 5,000 compared to Ukraine’s more than 2 million workers in 1918. Like other policies, this seems to have been a temporary alliance of convenience. Communism eventually made a genocidal turn against Ukrainian identity.
One of saddest single episodes of Soviet History involved “Kobzars” — distinctly Ukrainian mistrals who traveled between towns and sang songs about history and various folk themes. They will pillars of Ukrainian identity. In 1932 the Soviet authorities called on all Ukrainian Kobzars to attend a congress in Kharkiv. Those that arrived were taken outside the city and executed.
Soviet prison guard Danzig Baldaev wrote “During the epoch of Stalin, such mass executions were common. Party staff, political and other activists, artists were executed by center’s orders, which were issued like hunting licenses by species of animals – moose, saigas, arkhars, argali, bears… This was made regularly to prevent the rise of national dignity in distant parts of the USSR.”
Former Soviet economist and Central Committee member Yuri Maltsev said there was a cynical joke even in the highest levels of the Communist Party: “Our future is bright and glorious. The present is filled with hard work and dedication. It is only our past which is dark and unknown.”
27. The Destruction of the Family
Communism always obsesses over destruction of family structure. This was partially realized in the Soviet Union, both through the extreme relaxation of sexual norms, described below, and through the use of “Stalinky” — dormitory style housing developed under Stalin.
Stalin presided over a massive urbanization of society. They built housing in which spaces for cooking, eating and bathing were shared by multiple families. I spoke to one old Ukrainian patriot who believed that the evolution of housing under Krushchev, which did away with dormitory style housing, was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. “Krushchevky,” as they were called, allowed people to enjoy private conversations with their families.
Imagine how far gone a society has to be for private family life to be some dangerous, regime-threatening act.
28. Pathologizing disagreement.
Later in Soviet History, under the leadership of General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, psychiatry was used to discredit, humiliate, and remove dissidents. Those who questioned Marxism, Leninism, or any facet of official communist ideology risked having their lived destroyed by being committed to mental institutions.
29. Extreme relaxation of sexual norms.
As documented in the documentary Secret History of Sex in the USSR, 1922 saw a prominent nudist movement called Down with Shame which gain prominence in Moscow and Petrograd.
“Komsomol,” the young Communist league called had a system where men were allowed to have sex with any three women of their choosing, and senior communist party members could choose five. Infidelity was encouraged, and something very close to the “free love” movement of the 1960’s reigned. One town decreed that all women over 18 were property of the state and must register with the Ministry of Free Love, from which party members received coupons. A senior member of the secret police, then called the GPU, organizing orgies which began with the men wearing the actual robes of executed priests.
At the same time in Hungary, during the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic under Bela Kun, graphic sexual education was introduced in schools, and students were encouraged to ridicule and reject monogamy and the moral authority of family and church. After the government’s downfall, Bela Kun Make his way to the Soviet Union where he supervised the red terror in Crimea, including over 60,000 executions.
(Here we can reflect how Bela Kun, the red terror in Crimea, and those 60,000 executions are a mere footnote in the history of communism, seldom discussed and easily forgotten. By contrast, in Tsarist Russia, which was apparently so evil that all of society had to be over turned, and the Tsar Nicholas II executed together with his wife and five children, the death penalty had been abolished since 1754, except for treason. While the abolition was moderated in the late 19th century, during the last four decades of Tsarist rule twelve people were executed under the Code on Punishments, all having been convicted of assassination attempts or plots against the emperor, or in one case, the successful assassination of Alexander II. That’s it. Twelve. There were also several hundred soldiers sentenced to death under the military criminal code including 178 from 1906 to 1912, mostly for inciting rebellion. (See Donald Rawson’s paper, The Death Penalty in Late Tsarist Russia.)
Toward the end of his life, Lenin began condemning the sexual permissiveness of the Soviet Union — perhaps it was in response to the raging syphilis epidemic that gripped the country. There was also a wave of infanticide, with rape victims or women with unwanted pregnancies murdering their newborns.
Later under Stalin, culture completed it’s journey from comically degenerate to comically prudish, with censorship of some operas and classical artwork for being too sexually suggestive, and twelve “sexual commandments for the proletariat” that included the requirement to report any sexual depravity to communist authorities.
30. Fantasy Land.
Communism seems to begin with a caricature of history, straining to ignore some aspects of history while exaggerating others, then slowly depart from any tethers still connecting it to the physical world and enter a world of utter absurdity. And there is evidence that this is the goal:
Yuri Bezmenov, the famous former KGB agent who defected to the United States speaks of a process which has several names: “ideological subversion,” “active measures,” or “psychological warfare.” Its goal is to “change the perception of reality so such an extent that despite an abundance of information no one is able to come to sensible conclusion in the interests of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country. . . It’s a great brainwashing process which goes very slowly.” The first phase is demoralization. “A person who was demoralized is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him.”
They try to create reality by pretending things are true.
The “Ryazan Miracle” is one of the most absurd examples. In 1958, Alexei Larionov, the first secretary of the Ryazan region (essentially a governor), promised to triple the region’s meat production. The announcement earned him the prestigious Order of Lenin for his leadership. To meet the promise, all the cattle in Ryazan was slaughtered, including the dairy stock, and including some cattle kept by collective farm workers in their private households — which were “temporarily” (?) appropriated. Additionally, he reallocated resources from other projects to barter for meat from neighboring regions. Thus he delivered 150,000 tons of meat, and was awarded the title “Hero of Socialist Labor.” Despite his promise to deliver even more the following year, production crashed due to the mass slaughter of herds, as any child could have predicted. He was dismissed from his post, and committed suicide.
An Estonian friend of mine told me a joke about an idealistic Western journalist and fellow traveler who visited a Soviet collective farm. The NKVD escort put a worker in front of him. “Hello comrade,” the journalist told the worker. “How was this year’s potato harvest?” The worker thought long and hard about the question, then answered carefully: “Never in my life have I imagined there could be such a harvest. If we were to put all the potatoes in a pile, it would reach the very throne of God.” After the westerner walked off scribbling praise in his notebook, the NKVD agent slapped the worker. “Idiot!” he shouted. “This is Soviet Union. There is no God here.” “I know that,” answered the worker. “And there were no potatoes.”
One of the most inexplicable examples of fantasy land comes from American Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Samuelson, a Keynesian economist. In the late 80s, he wrote in the introduction to one of the most popular economist textbooks every written that “Contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, the Soviet economy is proof that . . . a socialist, command economy can function and even thrive.” He asked whether “earlier repressions” (which seems like a disgraceful euphemism for the murder of scores of millions of people), weren’t “worth while” given Soviet economic strength.
I can illustrate this “economic strength” with two anecdotes from distant relatives who grew up in Soviet Ukraine: One third cousin, about my age, somehow got his hands on a stick of chewing gum when he was a school boy. This was in the 1980s, and chewing gum was such such a luxury and status symbol among his peers, that he kept it for weeks — chewing intermittently and returning it to his pocket. Another cousin of mine traveled to Canada at around the age of thirty, and did not understand the question “What type of tea do you want?” because she never realized or even imagined that there could be more than one type of tea. Such was the bounty that justified “earlier repressions,” according to a Nobel Prize winning economist.
Historian Tom Woods was at Harvard when the Soviet Union collapsed. He saw communists organizations soliciting donations of pocket change to subsidize and rescue the Soviet system.
In The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn documents a mother and loyal communist being arrested in her apartment on fake charges. For fear that her daughter might lose faith in communism, she used her final moments of freedom to tell her daughter that the arrest was justified, and that she was, in fact, a class enemy.
31 (bonus). Incoherence.
The fantasy land is not possible with pervasive incoherence, which in my opinion is the single most interesting characteristic. It strike the very depths of reality and is often so obvious that articulating it seems to shake the foundation of reality — or post-modernist anti-reality, as it were.
In The Soviet Tragedy, Martin Malia describes many Soviet citizens feeling great relief at the outbreak of World War II. These were people less than twenty years removed from devastating wars, so they were unlikely to be naive to the horrors, and yet many welcomed the news of war because, as Malia describes, war provided a coherent, tangible reality again, in contract to the schizophrenic insanity of communist ideology.
The incoherence is everywhere.
It’s difficult to believe given contemporary communist rhetoric, but in the early days of communism, wealth was considered a good thing, and, they argued, communism was superior because it created more of it. By the mid 1950’s it became impossible to ignore the poverty and deprivation, so rather than abandon their revolutionary ideology they completely replaced what had been their fundamental goal. Yes, capitalism caused wealth, they conceded, but the wealth caused inequality, and inequality, not poverty, was the great evil against which all society’s resources must mobilize.
The intellectual bankruptcy is absolutely shameless, and calls to mind another observation from the great black conservative, Thomas Sowell: “Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.”
Philosophy Professor Stephen Hicks’s excellent little book Explaining Post-Modernism details the many outrageous ideological pivots the radical left has been forced to make over the years to preserve a revolutionary posture, including even their abandonment of the presumption of truth.
Frank Lentricchia: “Seek not to find the foundation and the conditions of truth but to exercise power for the purpose of social change.”
Foucault: “Knowledge is not for knowing: knowledge is for cutting.”
Foucault: “Schools serve the same social functions as prisons and mental institutions- to define, classify, control, and regulate people.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein: “All propositions of logic say the same thing. That is, nothing.”
Marcuse: “‘. . . absolute annihilation’ of the common sense world.”
Rorty: “I think that a good Left is a party that always thinks about the future and doesn’t care much about our past sins.”
If these post modernists were true nihilists, you might expect them to have various political beliefs, but they were all radical leftists. Also, you’d think that some of them might exercise a shred of self-reflection and turn their nihilistic deconstruction to their own work. If words are devoid of meaning, then what makes their arguments worthy? Of course, no such questions are asked.
It seems that post-modernism is a torture chamber for ideas and cultures masquerading a scholarship. It doesn’t matter what arguments you make once you’re inside. What matters is which ideas and cultures are sentenced to “deconstruction,” and which are held above reproach.
Consider this boast made by a Bolshevik named Yurii Piatakov in 1928 (by other accounts, 1932), a generation before the Post-Modernists: “. . . ordinary people in general, cannot make an instant change, a turn, amputating their own convictions. . . . We are not like other people. We are a party who make the impossible possible. . . . And if the party demands it, if it is necessary or important for the party, we will be able by an act of will to expel from our brains in twenty-four hours ideas we have held for years. . . . Yes, I will see black where I thought I saw white, or may still see it, because for me there is no life outside the party or apart from agreement with it.”
One of my great fears is that the post-modernists, like the Bolsheviks, are correct in prioritizing power over meaning. Those who believe in meaning exhaust themselves making arguments to people who do not believe in truth — modernist argument against a post-modernist ideology. What if a thousand slogans and bad arguments really are superior to fewer logical arguments rooted in evidence and subject to the test of predictive validity?
The multi-faceted tangle of logic pointing generally in the direction of class hatred has something for everybody. It is unconcerned with contradiction, and may even view it as an advantage. Their radicals have no obligation to defend any one argument, they simply survey their inventories for the words (or even just sounds) that will best defeat their current adversary. It gives them flexibility.
Orest Subtelny’s Ukraine, A History describes Lenin’s “willingness to take one step back in order to move socialism forward two steps later — the famous Lenin tango.” They supported nationalism in Ukraine, and then sought to destroy it. They supported Islam, and then tried to eradicate it.
British writer Theodore Dalrymple makes this shocking observation: “In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control.” He adds, “I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”
I think two additional theories must be considered as well.
Rooting an ideology in lies allows you to quickly identify your loyal fanatics who will fight for the movement, untethered even by reality. This seems to be evidenced by the ridiculous confessions authored by prisoners at the Pitesti re-education camp, or the boasting of Bolshevik Yurii Piatakov about his willing to believe anything that is demanded of him. This idea is not new. Believing something absurd is like a gang initiation ritual. It is similar to the famous saying of early Christian Theologian Tertullian who has been called “the founder of Western theology”: “I believe in the Trinity because it is aburd.”
Lastly, perhaps the explanation is a continuation of #15 – Communism is a jealous God and you shall have no other gods. Perhaps reality itself is an afront to the aspirations to communism, and rather than operate within reality, it ultimately strives to conquer it.
For these reasons we should consider whether the lies and contradictions are not errors which more thoughtful communists might have avoided, but are deliberate strategies and expressions of their ultimate ambition — dominion over reality.
At its height, a full third of the world’s population lived under communism. There is a lot of great perspective from dissidents and survivors. Maybe I’ll write the book.
In the mean time, I recommend four strategies for dealing with communism.
1. Truth. Be confident that it is moral to make careful, precise statements which are true. In the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, “The greatest charity one can do to another is to lead him to the truth.” Even stating obvious things help maintain one’s sanity.
Or, in the words of Solzhenitsyn: “Let your credo be this: ‘Let the lie come into the world, let it even dominate the world. But not through me.'”
2. Strength in small things. To borrow a phrase from The Lord of Rings: “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
Communism emerges with such fanatical devotion, it doesn’t always seem wise to fight it directly. Inevitably, it will collapse under the weight of its own lies, but to get there, you need to survive. So be strong in your health, spirituality, family, friends, profession and community.
Tsarist Russia was a hollow society with a thin, corrupt elite, and masses of poor. Lenin remarked that they found political power simply lying in the street, waiting to be picked up.
3. Decentralization. Truth emerges in decentralizes systems. It creates contrasts. Give them their Messiah in some small town or region. Put them in charge, and do not subsidize the consequences of their policies. Their failure will be so spectacular that, to paraphrase Thomas Sowell, only an intellectual will be able to ignore it.
4. Never, ever, under any circumstances surrender your ability to physically defend yourself and your family. To quote Solzhenitsyn again:
“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush . . . cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If . . . if . . . We didn’t love freedom enough. . . . We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”
Good luck, and Godspeed. Do not expect the devil to play fair.